Lawyer Robert Amsterdam appears on CNBC to speak about the political crisis in Thailand, where he says that the elites have manipulated the constitutional court and electoral commission in an attempt to impose an unelected authoritarian government.
The purpose of this White Paper is to alert the international community to an ongoing assault on democracy and the rule of law in Thailand, carried out by a coalition that includes members of the military, the courts, the public administration, the business world, the Democrat Party, among others. Further, it calls on the international community to throw its full-throated support behind the Yingluck government, aiding in its efforts to protect Thailand’s civilian population against the denial of its right to self-determination and against the imminent prospect of widespread violence.
As detailed in the report, the arbitrary and discriminatory administration of justice in pursuit of an anti-democratic agenda is at the center of Thailand’s political instability.
The continuing breakdown in the rule of law can be directly attributed to the abolishment of the democratic “People’s Constitution” of 1997 and its replacement with the “Coup Constitution” of 2007, which perpetuates restrictions to democratic rule by giving the judiciary and the bureaucracy the power to alter the results of freely conducted elections and to interfere in the activities of the legislative and executive branches.
The likely removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at the hands of the upper house, the courts, or the military, based on either the misapplication or nonobservance of the law, is almost sure to be followed by violence on a scale never before seen. This places the civilian population in Bangkok and in provinces where the government is strongly supported at an extreme risk of murder, arbitrary imprisonment, and torture, for which the PDRC already has a long track record.
In the long run, hopes for a durable peace in Thailand rest on the abolishment of the 2007 “Coup Constitution” and either the reinstatement of the 1997 “People’s Constitution” or the introduction of a new Constitution consistent with basic procedural and substantive requirements of democracy.
In the short run, however, the international community must act to defend Thailand’s beleaguered democracy based on its Responsibility to Protect. Further, if an individual state is failing in its duty, the concept of Responsibility to Protect calls upon the international community to take collective action within the framework of the UN Charter.
Protecting innocent civilians from brutal slaughter is no simple task in Thailand, as doing so requires breaking a cycle of lawless coups and killings that dates back decades. Now that the same groups responsible for this cycle of impunity are using every conceivable method to remove a duly elected government and destroy democracy, the international community must act to defend the lives and freedoms of the Thai civilian population from imminent danger. It should do so by coming to the aid and support of the Yingluck government, as it stands up to a coalition that has acted illegally and with such impunity for so long that it is simply blind to any semblance of the rule of law.
General Prayuth and the Thai Army’s furious response to my recent oped, Life Under A Coup, is typical of a mindset that refuses any notion of democratic accountability or civilian control. That he missed the glaring irony of denying involvement in Thailand’s civil governance whilst unilaterally threatening to bar a critic from the country adds to Prayuth’s image of operating beyond the reach of ordinary, legally sanctioned jurisdiction. It seems as though just speaking the truth to Thailand’s military elicits only threats and venom from them. By such methods – backed up with the constant menace of implied and actual violence – the Thai Army have sustained an atmosphere of fear and loathing in Thailand.
This careful cultivation of fear – built, most recently, upon the corpses of unarmed Thai civilians who died during the 2010 Bangkok Massacre – has now reached such a level of intimidation that only a few voices remain who will confront the Thai Army’s malfeasance openly and directly.
The international and diplomatic community have remained almost silent as the Thai Army have racked up the tension in Bangkok – this taciturn approach is made even more remarkable given the Thai Army’s unparalleled appetite for coup. Well-known and widely respected human rights NGOs, many of whom have regional HQs in Bangkok, seem almost willfully silent as Prayuth rolls his tanks into Bangkok, and verbally admonishes Thailand’s popular and democratically-elected leaders. Much of the international press and media corps in Bangkok may privately express views considered adverse to the Thai Army but almost none would dare make any public comment against them and instead choose targets that are unable to project similar power and force.
One only has to look back over the last 80years of Thai history to see the role the Thai Army has played in destabilizing democracy. As stated in Life Under A Coup, Prayuth’s charges have never defended a democratically elected government and always sided with those who view ordinary Thais as less than equal.
For the entire range of international voices – from NGOs and the press through to Bangkok’s diplomatic community – to remain silent in the face of the Thai Army’s recent conduct offers a case study in genuflection. Where are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others? Where are the truth-seekers of the international press, determined to hold power to account? The simple fact they are not singled out by Prayuth for attack – despite the mountains of evidence that implicate the Thai Army – reveals their failings. It is time for them to step up to the plate.
The Thai Army have a long and ignoble tradition of stymying democracy, attacking Thai civilians and meddling in politics. When it has suited their interests – as it did during the Bangkok Massacre in 2010 when they acted without hesitation to support the Abhist Vejjajiva-led regime, despite that regime having no meaningful democratic mandate – they have proved willing and able actors, sending their snipers to kill unarmed civilians and creating “live fire zones” to project their power. That the projection of this power is always used to attack democracy is an undeniable historical fact. The numerous coups that have enforced the suspension of Thai citizens’ political and democratic rights have become such a natural occurrence that the constant threat of coup now seems to be an accepted part of Thailand’s political life.
Conversely, when called upon by democratically-elected Thai governments to help defend the political rights of the country’s citizens the Thai Army routinely go missing. Their sordid cast of generals (there are literally 100s of “generals” of different rank supposedly serving in the Thai Army) and Army chiefs then appear at press conferences, making veiled threats to Thailand’s elected lawmakers and rather pathetic mealy-mouthed excuses about why they cannot be under accountable, democratic civilian control and why they must maintain “neutrality”. Of course “neutral”, in the Thai context, means that you tacitly and explicitly accept anti-democratic forces as a given, natural part of the political discourse. Neutrality, in this instance, is a non-existent opportunistic chimera created purely to divert a proper analysis of the real conditions within which the Thai Army operate.
The result of this military-inspired process of coups, massacres and inaction is that Thai democracy remains on thin, ill-formed ice, ready to crack and unable to sustain the struggles and debates associated with a healthy body politic. Therefore Abhisit’s undemocratic regime was able to impose itself on an unwilling Thai public through the use of Army-organised violence whilst in recent weeks a democratically-elected and popular government has to dissolve itself in an attempt to stall possible Army intervention to overthrow it. With every cycle of this process Thai democracy weakens. How much longer will it be before an even more severe crisis requires the immediate attention of an international community that has armed and supported Thailand’s Army for decades?
What is clear is that until the Thai Army is brought under lawful, accountable, democratic and civilian control it will act as a force hindering Thailand’s struggling – yet burgeoning – democracy.
The purpose of this White Paper is to alert the international community to an ongoing assault—carried out largely under the standard of the Democrat Party of Thailand, but engineered by a broader coalition of groups hostile to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra—designed to remove a democratically elected government by illegal means.
This alert to protect Thai democracy is even more pertinent and urgent given the recent military coup in Egypt. The actions of the Egyptian Army bluntly revealed to any of those who were still in doubt how fragile burgeoning democracies can be, particularly in countries where a lack of civilian oversight and accountability holds sway. The insipid response of the international community to the Egyptian coup and the violence and deaths that occurred on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere in the aftermath of the Egyptian Army’s actions lend a stark warning to what might occur in Thailand should anti-democratic forces take significant action.
The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which was elected and duly constituted in July 2011, is responsible to protect its citizens from (among other things) crimes against humanity, such as the brutal slaughter of dozens of unarmed civilians under the Democrat administration of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva during the “Red Shirt” pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok in April/May 2010. The Yingluck administration is working toward justice for those victims, and toward ensuring that no such atrocities occur ever again in Thailand. While the Thai government’s responsibility toward its citizens flows from basic principles of democratic governance, it is also enshrined in principles of international law, including the concept of Responsibility to Protect.1 Responsibility to Protect principles not only urge states to protect their citizens against mass atrocity crimes, such as the crimes against humanity inflicted upon the Thai citizenry during the 2010 Red Shirt demonstration; they also oblige the international community to encourage and assist individual states to meet those responsibilities. Further, if an individual state is failing in its duty, the concept of Responsibility to Protect calls upon the international community to take collective action within the framework of the UN Charter.2
Protecting innocent civilians from brutal slaughter is no simple task in Thailand, as doing so requires breaking a cycle of lawless coups and killings that dates back decades. The same groups that have been responsible historically for this cycle of impunity—the almost exclusive beneficiaries of the status quo that held before the first truly democratic Constitution was adopted in 1997—are now using every conceivable method to remove a duly elected government, primarily through an extra-parliamentary campaign of street action and judicial manipulation.
This White Paper describes the efforts by the anti-Thaksin coalition to undermine the results of the 2011 election, and it calls upon the international community to throw its full-throated support behind the Yingluck government as it strives to advance true democracy in Thailand, while preventing a repeat of April/May 2010.
The full White Paper can be read below:
The democratically elected Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, gave a career-defining speech yesterday at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
In this speech she highlighted the forces in Thailand that oppose democracy and the brutal and bloody lengths they will go to in order to secure their illegitimate and continued dominance over the Thai people. We have posted PM Yingluck’s speech below and suggest all read it in its entirety.
Already the former and unelected Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has condemned PM Yingluck’s call for greater democracy in Thailand. This comes as no surprise – Abhisit’s main legacy is of a man committed to the destruction of accountability, the continuation of impunity and the subjugation of the Thai people. As Abhisit has done on several occasions in the past he reveals, once again, his complete lack of understanding of the most basic principles of democracy and rule of law. It is no great surprise he leads a broken party that remains unelectable and unable to carry out its basic democratic duties as the official party of opposition and, instead, is reduced to the worst kind of demagoguery.
Statement of Her Excellency Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand at the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 29 April 2013.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Delegates to the Conference, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to begin by expressing my appreciation to His Excellency the President of Mongolia for inviting me to speak at this Conference of the Community of Democracies.
I accepted this invitation not only because I wanted to visit a country that has made many achievements regarding democracy, or to exchange ideas and views on democracy. But I am here also because democracy is so important to me, and more importantly, to the people of my beloved home, Thailand.
Democracy is not a new concept. Over the years, It has brought progress and hope to a lot of people. At the same time, many people have sacrificed their blood and lives in order to protect and build a democracy.
A government of the people, by the people and for the people does not come without a price. Rights, liberties and the belief that all men and women are created equal have to be fought, and sadly, died for.
Why? This is because there are people in this world who do not believe in democracy. They are ready to grab power and wealth through suppression of freedom. This means that they are willing to take advantage of other people without respecting human rights and liberties. They use force to gain submission and abuse the power. This happened in the past and still posed challenges for all of us in the present.
In many countries, democracy has taken a firm root. And it is definitely refreshing to see another wave of democracy in modern times, from Arab Spring to the successful transition in Myanmar through the efforts of President Thein Sein, and also the changes in my own country where the people power in Thailand has brought me here today.
At the regional level, the key principles in the ASEAN Charter are the commitment to rule of law, democracy and constitutional government. However, we must always beware that anti-democratic forces never subside. Let me share my story.
In 1997, Thailand had a new constitution that was created through the participation from the people. Because of this, we all thought a new era of democracy has finally arrived, an era without the cycle of coups d’état.
It was not to be. An elected government which won two elections with a majority was overthrown in 2006. Thailand lost track and the people spent almost a decade to regain their democratic freedom.
Many of you here know that the government I am talking about was the one with my brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, as the rightfully elected Prime Minister.
Many who don’t know me say that why complain? It is a normal process that governments come and go. And if I and my family were the only ones suffering, I might just let it be.
But it was not. Thailand suffered a setback and lost international credibility. Rule of law in the country was destroyed. Projects and programmes started by my brother’s government that came from the people’s wishes were removed. The people felt their rights and liberties were wrongly taken away.
Thai means free, and the people of Thailand fought back for their freedom. In May 2010, a crackdown on the protestors, the Red Shirts Movement, led to 91 deaths in the heart of the commercial district of Bangkok.
Many innocent people were shot dead by snipers, and the movement crushed with the leaders jailed or fled abroad. Even today, many political victims remain in jail.
However, the people pushed on, and finally the government then had to call for an election, which they thought could be manipulated. In the end, the will of people cannot be denied. I was elected with an absolute majority.
But the story is not over. It is clear that elements of anti-democratic regime still exist. The new constitution, drafted under the coup leaders led government, put in mechanisms to restrict democracy.
A good example of this is that half of the Thai Senate is elected, but the other half is appointed by a small group of people. In addition, the so called independent agencies have abused the power that should belong to the people, for the benefit of the few rather than to the Thai society at large.
This is the challenge of Thai democracy. I would like to see reconciliation and democracy gaining strength. This can only be achieved through strengthening of the rule of law and due process. Only then will every person from all walks of life can feel confident that they will be treated fairly. I announced this as part of the government policy at Parliament before I fully assumed my duties as Prime Minister.
Moreover, democracy will also promote political stability, providing an environment for investments, creating more jobs and income. And most importantly, I believe political freedom addresses long term social disparities by opening economic opportunities that would lead to reducing the income gap between the rich and the poor.
That is why it is so important to strengthen the grassroots. We can achieve this through education reforms. Education creates opportunities through knowledge, and democratic culture built into the ways of life of the people.
Only then will the people have the knowledge to be able to make informed choices and defend their beliefs from those wishing to suppress them. That is why Thailand supported Mongolia’s timely UNGA resolution on education for democracy.
Also important is closing gaps between rich and poor. Everyone should be given opportunities and no one should be left behind. This will allow the people to become an active stakeholder in building the country’s economy and democracy.
That is why my Government initiated policies to provide the people with the opportunities to make their own living and contribute to the development of our society. Some of these include creating the Women Development Fund, supporting local products and SMEs as well as help raising income for the farmers.
And I believe you need effective and innovative leadership. Effective in implementing rule of law fairly. Innovative in finding creative peaceful solutions to address the problems of the people.
You need leadership not only on the part of governments but also on the part of the opposition and all stakeholders. All must respect the rule of law and contribute to democracy.
Another important lesson we have learnt was that international friends matter. Pressure from countries who value democracy kept democratic forces in Thailand alive. Sanctions and non-recognition are essential mechanisms to stop anti-democratic regimes.
An international forum like Community of Democracies helps sustain democracy, seeking to promote and protect democracy through dialogue and cooperation. More importantly, if any country took the wrong turn against the principle of democracy, all of us here need to unite to pressure for change and return freedom o the people.
I will always support the Community of Democracies and the work of the Governing Council. I also welcome the President’s Asian Partnership Initiative for Democracy and will explore how to extend our cooperation with it.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to end my statement by declaring that, I hope that the sufferings of my family, the families of the political victims, and the families of the 91people, who lost their lives in defending democracy during the bloodshed in May2010, will be the last.
Let us continue to support democracy so that the rights and liberties of all human beings will be protected for future generations to come!
I very much enjoyed this post over at Political Prisoners in Thailand. I was similarly befuddled by how completely out of touch the Economist has become with the reality of politics on the ground in Thailand.
While acknowledging the birthday bash, the newspaper seems to want to portray Thailand as revolving around the aged king and Thaksin Shinawatra and views recent politics as being about Thaksin’s failed attempts to return home, noting that his exile has gone from “a temporary inconvenience has taken on an air of semi-permanency.” Its essential argument is that:
Since his younger sister, Yingluck, led their Pheu Thai party to a thumping win in the general election in July 2011, the government has explored just about every avenue to get Mr Thaksin back without having to serve the two-year jail term for corruption to which he was sentenced four years ago. Legislative attempts to revoke the charges, which he maintains were politically motivated, have got nowhere, as have attempts to win a royal pardon. Proposals for a general amnesty for all those involved in the political confrontations after 2006 have run into a constitutional brick wall.
Not only has the ceaseless plotting on Mr Thaksin’s behalf proved fruitless, it has also been damaging to the government of his sister. During her election campaign, Ms Yingluck promised “unity and reconciliation”, a sensible attempt to woo voters who were tired of continuous clashes between Mr Thaksin’s “red shirt” supporters and his “yellow shirt” opponents. But the blatant efforts to rewrite the law and tamper with the constitution chiefly for Mr Thaksin’s benefit have undermined that promise and inflamed his old adversaries.
This account fudges recent history and politics. Puea Thai didn’t particularly need to woo voters with talk of reconciliation as the party was always going to win the election and had plenty of other policies that were attractive for voters. In addition, Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Democrat Party, which campaigned on a kind of anti-reconciliation platform, were tainted by the manner in which they came to power and by the violent crackdowns on red shirts in 2009 and 2010. For many red shirts, reconciliation was also about justice and accountability (and they are looking carefully at how the prosecution of Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thaugsuban is handled).
Importantly, far from the Democrat Party-royalist view that everything is about absolving Thaksin, the Yingluck-Thaksin team has backed away from bringing Thaksin home, from legal changes and from constitutional change (although the latter is now back on the agenda). The strategy has been, according to Duncan McCargo, to cool political tensions. Kevin Hewison has recently made similar claims in a recent article at Political Insight. He says that:
royalist and yellow shirt opponents have been sniping at the government for alleged corruption, disloyalty to the monarchy, supporting red shirt ‘terrorists’ and for being at Thaksin’s beck and call, but none of this has destabilised the government. This rapid political cooling has been possible because Yingluck and her brother Thaksin have recognised that, in government, their political aims are more likely to be achieved through compromise, cooling radical demands and reducing opposition from the military, judiciary and monarchy.
McCargo says: “Once seen a stopgap tasked only with preparing the ground for her brother’s imminent return, an extended term of office for Yingluck Shinawatra now looks increasingly probable.” Indeed, compared with the period of the Abhisit regime, politics has cooled (perhaps temporarily).
Until the Pitak Siam “brief war,” the current government while trying to promote elements of its electoral platform, had done its best to avoid confrontations with the aim of staying in power and getting re-elected. Even the Pitak Siam kerfuffle was handled in a way that reduced the possibility of mass mobilization of opponents. The Economist seems to miss this essential point and suggest quite the opposite.
Predicting that the number one priority in Pitak Siam’s November 24 demonstration was to spark violence did not require sophisticated forecasting skills. Given the strength of the government’s majority in parliament, an incident of some kind was needed, whether to provide the military with an excuse to stage a coup or to generate additional support to escalate Pitak Siam’s activities. What could not be so easily predicted is that the demonstration would fail so miserably. The day started off badly for Pitak Siam, which despite the great fanfare was only able to get 20,000 people at most to show up at its rally. The pathetic turnout forced desperate leaders to play the violence card early, in fact so early and so blatantly as to completely discredit themselves. Less predictable of all was that the often maligned Royal Thai Police would act with such professionalism and restraint, resisting to provocations while refusing to cede ground to the demonstrators.
On June 1, 2012, Thailand’s Constitutional Court took the extraordinary step of issuing an injunction, quickly shown to have violated the law and exceeded the bounds of the Court’s constitutional authority,1 ordering the National Assembly to cease all deliberations on a proposed amendment to the 2007 Constitution, pending a review of the amendment’s constitutionality. The injunction was issued on the same day when a few hundred activists from the so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), in cooperation with members of the opposition Democrat Party, blockaded all roads to Thailand’s parliament, preventing the House of Representatives from meeting to debate a controversial “Reconciliation Act.” The previous two meetings of the House had been disrupted by the PAD’s threat to storm the halls of the National Assembly, and by the intemperate outbursts of Democrat Party members of parliament, some of whom physically assaulted the House Speaker and other parliamentarians. Once again, the PAD, the Democrat Party, and the Constitutional Court have teamed up to delegitimize the democratic process, prevent the representatives of the Thai people from fulfilling their legislative functions under the Constitution, and lay the groundwork for the removal of a duly elected and legally constituted government, whether by military force (as in 2006) or by judicial intervention (as in 2008).
Almost two years after ordering a massacre of his own citizens, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva remains the leader of the Democrat Party. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, whose troops carried out the killings, is still the Commander in Chief of the Thai army, while many of the officers who assisted in the crackdown’s planning and execution were rewarded with promotions. Even the retired General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who staged a military coup in 2006 against a government elected three times, is now a member of parliament; improbably, he was given the chairmanship of a parliamentary committee on “national reconciliation.”
These men did not just escape legal accountability for their actions, which is the historical norm in Thailand, but got to keep their positions and titles. Few in the domestic and international press have seriously questioned their fitness to serve.